PUUF/UUCP History, 1980s

The Dynamic—and Sometimes Distressing—1980s

The 1980s brought dynamic growth and transformation, under the consecutive leadership of three exceptionally active presidents–who were then elected for two-year terms followed by two more on the Board. Art and Linda de Tonnancourt entered on Easter 1978, finding an informal discussion group of 25-30 folks, some even smoking. The couple had tremendous impact. Art’s 3 years as president (1 replacing Bob Haywood) helped the Fellowship become a more stable organization with governing board and real services. We improved 904 Scott St., added a kitchen, bought a cottage two doors down (924) as an RE building, started a canvass system of regular pledges, and grew a financially supporting membership of about 85 by 1985, when VP Carolyn Salmon ably took the helm.

President Carolyn Salmon carried on and extended earlier initiatives, and led us toward a full time settled contract with our half-time extension minister, Rev. Michel Seider.

But a funny thing happened a day or two before Dolly Berthelot officially began her presidency, expecting a stable year led by the minister to whom we’d become accustomed. Michael Seider knocked at her door at 9:30 pm to announce his departure—from PUUF, from Pensacola, and from Ministry. He simply felt a change of heart. Turmoil, commitment, and creativity resulted, with most making a tremendous effort to pull together. With devoted help from the Board, Service Leader Marion Holland and the president beat every bush, including UU General Assembly, for speakers, and found excellent ones. With no minister, the president led almost all services. Stalwart leaders Dorothy Hinkle, treasurer, and Liz Pedro, secretary, became critically ill that year, and the VP suddenly moved out of town. Amid all else, those key leaders had to be replaced. Art deTonnancourt stepped up again, as VP.

A Search Committee was elected to find a new minister. Carolyn Salmon and Ron Berthelot co-chaired. By spring, a short-term interim, Rev. Wyman Rousseau, briefly brought much needed relief, particularly welcome while the president’s father was also dying of cancer in Louisiana. All the beleaguered workers excitedly looked forward to meeting the ministerial candidate the Search Committee had rushed to put forth, and we anticipated the usual, and especially needed, restful summer…

But more shock waves hit.  At her first Sunday service and candidating week here, the candidate was judged a poor match for PUUF and was rejected—even by some search members who chose her, and by other leaders who most needed respite. We had to start the whole process over.

All hell broke loose. A few advocates of this candidate, led by two search members and their spouses, started Sunday home meetings—the same time as PUUF services. Some expressed belief that the No vote meant the Fellowship didn’t really want any minister, and that PUUF did not adequately support Religious Education. RE leaders were among those who fled, so the refurbished RE house was deserted for weeks. Summer conflict resolution meetings with UUA consultants Roger Comstock and Eileen Karpeles helped. Almost all members returned and were quickly re-integrated. We paddled forth, happily together again.

Jean Shields chaired a short-term Interim Search Team carefully appointed to represent diverse factions and theological perspectives for a religiously diverse congregation.

Nov. 20, 1988, Interim Minister Steve Stock began his 20-month tenure, in time to participate in our quickly created and wonderful 30th Anniversary Celebration, Dec. 4, 1988. Steve was naturally facilitative, accepting, and witty. He provided terrific, provocative services and was a soothing salve, relieving our stress and pains from past traumas.

That 30th Anniversary event was rousing, rejuvenating, and joyous.

Our lively PUUF Founder, Penny Barney Long, flew in from Kansas, and shared her original song about our Fellowship. Now a lively 87-year-old, she sends best wishes, and is sorry she won’t be able to make our 50th Celebration, April 11-13. However, we will hear her delightful song again.  –Dolly Berthelot